Density dependence, population regulation, and variability in population size are fundamental population processes, the manifestation and interrelationships of which are affected by environmental variability. However, there are surprisingly few empirical studies that distinguish the effect of environmental variability from the effects of population processes. We took advantage of a unique system, in which populations of the same duck species or close ecological counterparts live in highly variable (north American prairies) and in stable (north European lakes) environments, to distinguish the relative contributions of environmental variability (measured as between-year fluctuations in wetland numbers) and intraspecific interactions (density dependence) in driving population dynamics. We tested whether populations living in stable environments (in northern Europe) were more strongly governed by density dependence than populations living in variable environments (in North America). We also addressed whether relative population dynamical responses to environmental variability versus density corresponded to differences in life history strategies between dabbling (relatively “fast species” and governed by environmental variability) and diving (relatively “slow species” and governed by density) ducks. As expected, the variance component of population fluctuations caused by changes in breeding environments was greater in North America than in Europe. Contrary to expectations, however, populations in more stable environments were not less variable nor clearly more strongly density dependent than populations in highly variable environments. Also, contrary to expectations, populations of diving ducks were neither more stable nor stronger density dependent than populations of dabbling ducks, and the effect of environmental variability on population dynamics was greater in diving than in dabbling ducks. In general, irrespective of continent and species life history, environmental variability contributed more to variation in species abundances than did density. Our findings underscore the need for more studies on populations of the same species in different environments to verify the generality of current explanations about population dynamics and its association with species life history.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Environmental variability and population dynamics: Do European and North American ducks play by the same rules?|
|Series title||Ecology and Evolution|
|Contributing office(s)||Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center|